CRISPR genome-editing of corals to understand the genetic response of corals to ocean warming


This topical and highly innovative research is funded by the European Horizon 2020 Programm, under a 3-year Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellowship.

It is an Australian-French collaborative research between the French National Research Institute for Development (IRD) in Nouméa and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville.

The CORALCARE project studies the genetic response of corals to ocean warming. The world’s coral reefs are being severely impacted on a global scale by rising temperature that has led to increased coral bleaching and mortality. It is uncertain that these unique ecosystems will be able to adapt to this unprecedented pace of warming. Coral reefs are often referred as the ‘rainforest of the ocean’ and their potential loss puts an astounding EUR 9 trillion of biodiversity and ecosystem services at risk annually. The major goal for the management of coral reefs is to both predict the ability of natural coral populations to adapt to future climate change and to assist this evolution, in order to minimise their loss. However, assisted evolution requires a deep understanding of coral genetics, which is still in its infancy. This is why the overarching project aim is to understand genes and pathways that lead to thermal tolerance in corals. For the first time in the world, the cutting-edge genome-editing CRISPR/Cas9 and CRISPR/dCas9 techniques will be developed in corals, and allow us to disrupt gene function as well as turn genes on or off, to identify thermotolerance-related functions.

The project aim will be tackled by: (1) scaling-up the CRISPR/Cas9 method for high-throughput gene editing during the short annual coral spawning, and establishing the CRISPR/dCas9 method for gene regulation in corals; (2) editing corals using the two CRISPR methods to test the function of candidate genes. The research is topical and highly innovative in using CRISPR genetic engineering for functional genomics, which will strengthen Europe’s quality and attractiveness in R&I. To undertake this research, the early-career researcher who has expertise in evolutionary biology will receive training in CRISPR by world’s experts, and transfer knowledge to EU. This groundbreaking project will establish the Fellow as a prominent coral scientist who will lead Australian-French collaborative research.